Chief Executive of Dublin City Council (DCC) Owen Keegan has suggested that University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) enter the rental market to provide student accommodation.
Keegan made the remark in a letter sent to UCDSU President Ruairí Power. The two had been corresponding after Power wrote to Keegan to express concern over the use of student accommodation for short-term rentals to tourists, and requested a meeting with him to discuss the issue.
The chief executive did not respond to Power’s request for a meeting, but said that DCC had granted permission for “partial change of use” of properties, “ancillary to the main use as student accommodation on a strictly temporary basis”.
Power wrote back to thank Keegan for his engagement on the issue, but said that UCDSU remained deeply concerned about the decision and did not believe DCC engaged sufficiently with students before making it.
The union president said this represented a “vacuum of leadership from the council executive during a period of significant challenge for students”.
In a second reply to Power, Keegan said that he did not believe it would have been “appropriate” for DCC to undertake stakeholder engagement in advance of such planning decisions, and “[it] is not the city council’s fault that you appear to have been unaware of how the planning system works”.
He continued: “If you genuinely believe that excess profits are being made in the purpose-built student accommodation market I am surprised the Students Union has not entered the market itself and provided lower cost student accommodation for its members.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Power said: “UCDSU has no confidence in the DCC CEO. While we understand that housing is an emotive issue, allowing these conversions to be facilitated was an appalling lack of judgement on the part of DCC.”
“The dismissive attitude displayed, however, is depressing” he continued. “That said, Mr. Keegan rightly highlights the 2016 government circular which gave license to local authorities to prioritise the enrichment of accommodation providers over the public good.”
“Similarly, the national student accommodation strategy places too much emphasis on the role of private providers, and has allowed universities including UCD to develop elitist, discriminatory accommodation strategies.”
Trinity News reached out to Owen Keegan for comment but had not received a response at time of publication.
Several politicians also commented on the issue. Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Research Simon Harris said he “fully agree[d]” with UCDSU that “student accommodation must be for students,” despite Power’s criticism of government policy on the issue.
Harris also called Keegan’s comments “dismissive and sarcastic” and said they “didn’t help”.
Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon pledged to raise the issue in the Dáil.
Public comments by Keegan have frequently attracted criticism and controversy in the past. In August, he said in radio interview that he didn’t believe homeless people “should be allowed sleep in tents”. Several city councillors criticised these remarks.
In June, a petition was circulated calling for councillors to remove Keegan from his post, citing a range of decisions made during his tenure as chief executive.
In 2019, Keegan said that homeless services in the capital were “attractive” and said that this caused people to “decide to stay” in emergency accommodation. He added that “in previous days, they would have been in mental institutions”.
When he was criticised for these remarks by homelessness charities, Keegan described the reaction as “hysterical”.
Student accommodation is a significant issue at the moment around the country, with students in Limerick sleeping in hotels because of a lack of alternatives. The Union of Students in Ireland has called on the government to take action on the matter.